News | Student Life

Barnard expands international visiting students program

Couldn’t swing study abroad? The international experience may be closer than you think.

Barnard has surpassed its goal of internationalizing its student body, as more students than ever are participating in its Visiting International Students Program.

VISP, led by Assistant Provost and Dean for International Programs Hilary Link, is a program that allows students from partner universities around the world to study at Barnard during the spring semester of the academic year. The program intends to bring more international students to Barnard while156 Barnard students study abroad for the semester.

Initially, five students—four from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and one from Collegio Nuovo in Italy—participated in the program when it kicked off last spring. Now, 41 students, hailing from Italy, China, and Korea, among others, are spending the semester at Barnard.

“We were approached with the idea of organizing the buddy system last semester, early on last semester based on a number of conversations we’ve had in previous years,” Katie Pallilo, BC ’10 and president of the Barnard Student Government Association, said. “One of the goals of SGA that we strive so hard to achieve is speaking to and representing the groups that aren’t most vocal on campus or the traditionally underrepresented groups.”

Most participating students agreed that Barnard’s location in New York City and its ties with Columbia were immediate factors that attracted them to the program.

“[It’s a] mix between living in New York and going to such a prestigious school and the Columbia environment,” Michela Pagano, a first-year in the Master’s Degree program at Collegio Nuovo, said.

Students also found an intimacy on Barnard’s campus that they say is lacking at their own universities.

“We don’t have this kind of campus life in Denmark,” Tina Bihal, a student in her fifth year at the University of Copenhagen, said. “You can feel that there is a certain Barnard culture.”

“Here [at Barnard] it feels like everyone cares about you,” Cecilia Trovati, a second-year in the Master’s Degree program at Collegio Nuovo, said. “In general, students have to do everything on their own [in Italy].”

“In Denmark, we don’t pay for our studies so we don’t get as much counseling,” Iben Andersen, a student in her fifth year at the University of Copenhagen, said.
Some, however, described the learning environment as more challenging.

“The atmosphere is more dynamic and stimulating and more challenging because courses require many skills and writing and speaking skills,” Chiara Poselle Bonaventura, a student in her second year at Collegio Nuovo, said. “Everything in our country is based more on oral exams.”

But students also said that Barnard’s course offerings were more diverse and allowed for more freedom in choosing courses.

“Every course, students can choose whatever they want,” Pang Lin, a junior at the China Foreign Affairs University, said. “In our school, some classes are mandatory.”

“We can’t choose between thousands of courses [at Collegio Nuovo],” Bonaventura said. “I can’t take ballet if I am studying political science.”

“I hear various languages like Danish, French, Spanish … other than English there are other languages I can learn,” Young-ah Chae, a sophomore at the Underwood International College in Seoul, Korea, said.

While students noted that the American education system is more open and diverse, some have found difficulties in navigating a new system.

“It can be quite hard as a foreigner to understand what is going on and how the system works,” Bihal said. She found psychology particularly difficult. At Barnard, the courses operate differently than she is used to, and there are a number of terms she doesn’t know.

Link said that the cost of attending Barnard for VISP participants varies according to the university the students are originally from. VISP students are all on the meal plan.

“Our VISP agreements are complicated in that some involve direct payments from partners which vary, and some are even exchanges,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, calculating the finances is not a simple matter of addition and subtraction.”

Ultimately, Palillo said, both the visiting international students and Barnard benefit from the VISP program.

“Barnard definitely benefits from any kinds of diverse perspectives we have on campus, whether it is regionally or ethnically,” she said. “We become more cognizant of life outside of the Barnard gates.”

madina.toure@columbiaspectator.com

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